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Review: Surgery, sex and superfluous human organs converge in David Cronenberg's 'Crimes of the Future'

Justin Chang, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

If Mortensen and Seydoux are entirely convincing as skilled and self-demanding artists — since that’s exactly what they are in real life — then Stewart is hilariously cast against starry type. Her Timlin is a squeaky-voiced pedant whose awkwardness masks personal and professional ambitions, as well as a lust for Saul that briefly threatens to transform “Crimes of the Future” into a triangle.

Also caught up in the noirish mix are a nosy detective (Welket Bengué), two tech-savvy femmes fatales (Tanaya Beatty and Nadia Litz) and a combative former couple (Scott Speedman and Lihi Kornowski) whose 8-year-old son has evolved the curious ability to eat and process plastic, something he manages by spewing a corrosive digestive fluid.

That last bit may be a nod to Cronenberg’s splattery 1986 masterpiece, “The Fly,” even as “Crimes of the Future,” with its graphic, symbiotic twistings of flesh and machinery, also feels like an extension of such body-horror classics as “Videodrome” and “eXistenZ.”

For the filmmaker’s regular admirers, little will feel like wholly uncharted territory: Cronenberg has long been fascinated by how readily our minds and bodies bend themselves to the contours of modern technology, and here he pushes that concept to a physiologically and ecologically grim conclusion. (He also reunites with several of his gifted collaborators, including Howard Shore, who composed the memorably brooding score, and Carol Spier, whose production design finds a grimy, ruinous splendor in the movie’s Greek locations.)

Given the familiarity of Cronenberg’s formal gifts and thematic preoccupations, it’s best to dispense with the rumors that surged ahead of “Crimes of the Future’s” recent Cannes Film Festival premiere — namely, that the movie would horrify and outrage audiences in ways reminiscent of Cronenberg’s 1996 Cannes-designated scandal, “Crash.”

To be sure, there’s plenty here to send an unprepared moviegoer bolting for the exits, including a pitiless homicide, creative use of power drills and the delectable sight of Caprice tonguing a zippable orifice in Saul’s much-abused abdomen.

But Cronenberg, as he has proved in film after film, has no use for crude jolts or gratuitous violence. If “Crimes of the Future” is a slasher movie of sorts, it’s one in which every cut has elegance and purpose, and every spurt of blood delivers an intellectual payload.

His filmmaking is often noted for its surgical precision, a cliché that aptly evokes the discipline of his narrative construction and the suavity of his compositions. (The movie was shot by Douglas Koch and edited by Christopher Donaldson.) But in pointedly neutralizing the pain felt by his human characters in “Crimes of the Future,” Cronenberg also goes some distance toward neutralizing our own revulsion; he allows us to look, at length and without flinching, upon sometimes beautiful, sometimes ghastly images of the body and its (dis)contents. His aesthetic acts as an anesthetic, opening us up — much as Caprice opens up Saul, and vice versa — and imploring us to consider what awaits our planet, our children and the precious internal circuitry that makes us human.

And also, inevitably, to laugh. Like more than a few of the director’s earlier movies, “Crimes of the Future” inhabits a nightmare so ridiculously intricate in its convolutions that it must be not just seen to be believed but also described to be remotely understood.

 

But if there’s an occasional laboriousness to the world building, Cronenberg knows how to turn exposition into droll comic poetry, the best lines of which work in or out of context: “I think this bed needs new software.” “Watching you filled me with the desire to cut my face open.” “I’m not very good at the old sex.” The future is grim, Cronenberg might be saying, but it also looks hilariously out-there. And by out-there, of course, he very much means in here.

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‘CRIMES OF THE FUTURE’

Rating: R, for strong disturbing violent content and grisly images, graphic nudity and some language

Running time: 1 hour, 47 minutes

Playing: June 3 in limited release

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©2022 Los Angeles Times. Visit at latimes.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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